Making a strong commitment to consume only the healthiest food cannot possibly be bad, right? After all, you’re doing your body good and you’re manifesting great resolve to be in the best health of your life.

However, if this strong commitment becomes an obsession, your physical health will certainly not make up for the downgrade of the other components of your life.

Orthorexia nervosa is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a righteous and healthy diet. People with this condition are not just about adhering to a strict eating program—they also tend to deal with crippling anxiety at the mere idea of not being able to uphold the perfect diet, and this is what’s gravely concerning about it.

According to eating disorder specialists, there are numerous overlaps between orthorexia and other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. However, there are a few symptoms that distinguish orthorexia from the two more familiar eating disorders, such as:

  • Extreme concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies.
  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies even without instruction from a medical professional.
  • Overdosing on health supplements.
  • Decreased food choices. For example, over time, the person with the condition may stick to just five types of food.
  • Excessive and irrational anxiety over food preparation techniques, especially with how the food was washed or how eating utensils were sterilised, or if the table was scrubbed using special cleaning agents.

Except for the outrageously limited food choices, it truly may appear like orthorexia isn’t that harmful; the main issue here, though, is how the obsession can lead to behavioural abnormalities and reduced quality of life.

An orthorexic may constantly be anxious over everything, and rendered useless at the mere thought that she had eaten an ingredient that doesn’t meet her high standards of what’s healthy. Another possibility with this condition is losing interest in everything else that’s not food- or health-related and becoming quite depressed. Relationships will certainly suffer, which then can further reinforce feelings of loneliness and being misunderstood.

Orthorexia always starts out as a smart life challenge for health, but when it turns into a monstrous obsession, it is anything but healthy. People with this disorder need professional medical help; they cannot recover by themselves because of their own ability to justify their actions. They will not even acknowledge that something’s wrong with them. Therefore, loved ones should step in; otherwise, othorexics can lose everything that truly makes life worthwhile – including the health they’re obsessed with.

If you need help with an eating issue, please search our list of counsellors and therapists who specialise in working with eating issues.